W.E.B. DuBois, Prayers for Dark People, p. 38
Sunday, January 27, 2008
W.E.B. DuBois, Prayers for Dark People, p. 38
Friday, January 25, 2008
This week, Tiger Woods addressed the media and questions surrounding the issue of Kelly Tighlman's "lynching comment, " infamously made three weeks ago at the Mercedez-Benz Championships. Tiger responded in a most annoyed way, "I know there are people who want me to be a champion of all causes, and I just can't do that." He further went on to say that, "I thought the incident was pretty much handled and was over. I talked to Kelly. We discussed it for a little bit. She felt extremely bad about what happened. As I said earlier, she's been a great friend over the years, and everyone makes mistakes, and she certainly regrets what she said and what happened."
I for one do not want Tiger,or any one for that matter, to be "ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE." That is asking a bit much for a mere golfer. Unfortunately that is the tight rope that Barack Obaama now tries to walk. Now Tiglman might truly regret her comments and be sincere in her apology, but this issue is bigger than Woods (as I mentioned in an earlier post). If this were a situation about an anti-semtic comment could he just walk away from it? I tend to think there is at least a mustard seed of responsibilty needed to acknowledge what lynching means. Could a Jew simply say that he or she cannot take issue with a comment made about the holocaust for instance? Let's say Mark Steinberg, Tiger's agent was mentioned in some racist or ethnically insensitive diatribe, what do you think he would do? Maybe I am reaching with that one (maybe not). Ultimately, Tiger is under the spell of what comedian Paul Mooney jokingly called "The illusion of inclusion". Tiger believes that included and accepted because of his mastery of the game of golf, but do not think for one minute that if whitefolk could get Woods out of golf...they would. The same could be said for Venus and Serena Williams in tennis. If you do not believe me check out some of Chris Everett's comments on Serena.
Essentially Tiger thinks his children's foundation is more important than acknowledging lynching's impact on America. That is admirable I suppose. There are a lot of positive things Woods does with his foundation. However, it is not by chance that it took this long to have a golf champ of African descent (what ever percentage Tiger claims). Ask Calvin Pete and Jim Dent what it was like breaking through and especially Charlie Sifford (who was the first in 1961).
Instead of having a trancending status say of Jackie Robinson with baseball Tiger wants to be the Jordan of golf in every way. He is defined by the sport and the money he earns from endorsements ($100 million last year). Woods joins not just Jordan, but also Willie Mays who refused to take up moral and racial issues within baseball when asked for his help by Hank Aaron after the passing of Robinson. Tiger could be a unifier just in his sport much in the same way Obama seems to bring about a glimer of hope for what America could be.
I believe that the media present at Torrey Pines Golf Course did not ask the right questions of Mr. Woods. The question that should have posed to the star athlete should have inquired about , what will he would tell his daughter when she asks, "Daddy what does that noose mean?"
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Could someone please tell me when Bill Clinton became black? Was it when he played his saxophone on the once popular Arsenio Hall show? Was it because he ate McDonald's? Maybe it was the number of black churches he went to—shaking hands and kissing black babies? I could go on to list a litany of empty or superficial qualities that could be associated culturally as "black". I will be the first to give it to Bill for having the type of rock star charisma that makes for a good leader on a national scope, but again this is like folk who attend church, hear a "good sermon" but then can't really tell you what the sermon was about or how it was able to help them transcend their present depraved condition. They just "know" it was good. I seem to recall a line from Shakespeare's MacBeth. "It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing."
Well brothers and sisters, I hope that more of us will think more critically about this election. When I say that, I am not suggesting one take the same transparent enthusiasm for the Clintons and vote for Barack Obama simply because he is black. In that same breath, I really wish that the folk who "marched with Dr. King" would simply just sit down! For instance, Andrew Young...he of ALL people needs to sit down and be silent. I am empathic to the tears shed for Dr. King every time his name is mentioned, but really...you think the Clintons are more black than Obama? For that matter, who has he (Andrew Young) been training, of the young leaders in our various communities, to take up the fight where he left off?
The ONLY thing I can come up with that the Clinton Administration did was that they inherited a great time economically. The American economy was booming in the 1990s. The "dot com" companies were in full bloom and everything was joyous, or that is what we are led to believe. I do not recall the ghetto disappearing or the trailer parks turning into lush suburbs either. Regardless, when the economy is good of course it is easy to associate that period of economic vitality to the person who was in the oval office.
If Hillary wins and these black folk who "marched with Dr. King" stand in line for their appointments of patronage will Bill and Hillary say, "My Niggas!" in some congratulatory tone? Of course I am being more than a bit cynical here, but could someone please tell me what power the Clintons have over certain elements of the African American population to be supported so strongly? Did they forget about the increased incarceration rates of African American males? The overhaul of welfare (of which the majority of the recipients are white women)? Maybe they are just gleeful because of the NAFTA agreement that was signed that effectively sent their once profitable jobs overseas? I know that Americans (both black and white) who worked for the big three automotive giants understand what I am saying...and likely the whole city of Detroit.
Whatever the reason, I am calling for all respectable persons of African descent to not drink the "Jim Jones Kool-Aid" the Clintons have been serving up. To see how much the Clintons care about blackfolk, just check Bill Clinton out at a recent Martin Luther King Day Celebration where he was blatantly sleeping while Martin Luther King, III was giving the keynote address. Is “Billy Bob” still your boy? I am sure these Negroes will write that off as him being tired because of the campaign. I call it shameful and utterly disrespectful. What would happen if Vernon Jordan fell asleep at some function Clinton was speaking at when he was president?
A noted historian once lamented, "if everyone who said that they "marched with Dr. King" actually did march with him, he would still be alive." The more I have thought about that statement over the years the more I believe it to be true. In the recent Democratic debate on CNN in South Carolina, the question was posed to the candidates, "Who would Dr. King support?" Obama gave the best answer, "none of us." He then went on to rightly explain that he believed King would have urged the American people to hold whoever is elected accountable to their pre-election promises, not to mention the problems that occur while in office. Think about that for a moment and ask what Clinton did in Africa?
I wonder if those who "marched with Dr. King" have forgotten what they marched for or likely have knowingly and willfully blinded themselves for a piece of the pie that has yet to be cut? Last time I checked the Civil War effectively ended the slave trade in 1865. Moreover, the signing of the thirteenth amendment gave bonded persons their citizenship (though freedom cannot and should not be gained or negated by legislation). Can someone please tell these "knee-grows" that they can now leave the plantation?
Monday, January 21, 2008
Obama spoke today at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. For those unaware it is the church that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was raised in and also the place where his ministry began. Obama's full remarks as prepared for delivery follow ... (to see video CLICK HERE).
The Scripture tells us that when Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the gates of Jericho, they could not enter. The walls of the city were too steep for any one person to climb; too strong to be taken down with brute force. And so they sat for days, unable to pass on through.
But God had a plan for his people. He told them to stand together and march together around the city, and on the seventh day he told them that when they heard the sound of the ram's horn, they should speak with one voice. And at the chosen hour, when the horn sounded and a chorus of voices cried out together, the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
There are many lessons to take from this passage, just as there are many lessons to take from this day, just as there are many memories that fill the space of this church. As I was thinking about which ones we need to remember at this hour, my mind went back to the very beginning of the modern Civil Rights Era.
Because before Memphis and the mountaintop; before the bridge in Selma and the march on Washington; before Birmingham and the beatings; the fire hoses and the loss of those four little girls; before there was King the icon and his magnificent dream, there was King the young preacher and a people who found themselves suffering under the yoke of oppression.
And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community mistrusted themselves, and at times mistrusted each other, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today:
"Unity is the great need of the hour" is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.
What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.
I'm not talking about a budget deficit. I'm not talking about a trade deficit. I'm not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.
I'm talking about a moral deficit. I'm talking about an empathy deficit. I'm taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother's keeper; we are our sister's keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.
We have an empathy deficit when we're still sending our children down corridors of shame – schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education.
We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in ten minutes than some workers make in ten months; when families lose their homes so that lenders make a profit; when mothers can't afford a doctor when their children get sick.
We have a deficit in this country when there is Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others; when our children see nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree today, in the present, in the twenty-first century.
We have a deficit when homeless veterans sleep on the streets of our cities; when innocents are slaughtered in the deserts of Darfur; when young Americans serve tour after tour of duty in a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged.
And we have a deficit when it takes a breach in our levees to reveal a breach in our compassion; when it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed; the sick He calls on us to care for; the least of these He commands that we treat as our own.
So we have a deficit to close. We have walls – barriers to justice and equality – that must come down. And to do this, we know that unity is the great need of this hour.
Unfortunately, all too often when we talk about unity in this country, we've come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. We've come to believe that racial reconciliation can come easily – that it's just a matter of a few ignorant people trapped in the prejudices of the past, and that if the demagogues and those who exploit our racial divisions will simply go away, then all our problems would be solved.
All too often, we seek to ignore the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way of ensuring opportunity for all children, or decent jobs for all people, or health care for those who are sick. We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price.
But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.
It's not easy to stand in somebody else's shoes. It's not easy to see past our differences. We've all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart – that puts up walls between us.
We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don't think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the non-believer chides the believer as intolerant.
For most of this country's history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man's inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.
And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.
We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.
Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.
So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.
Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.
But if changing our hearts and minds is the first critical step, we cannot stop there. It is not enough to bemoan the plight of poor children in this country and remain unwilling to push our elected officials to provide the resources to fix our schools. It is not enough to decry the disparities of health care and yet allow the insurance companies and the drug companies to block much-needed reforms. It is not enough for us to abhor the costs of a misguided war, and yet allow ourselves to be driven by a politics of fear that sees the threat of attack as way to scare up votes instead of a call to come together around a common effort.
The Scripture tells us that we are judged not just by word, but by deed. And if we are to truly bring about the unity that is so crucial in this time, we must find it within ourselves to act on what we know; to understand that living up to this country's ideals and its possibilities will require great effort and resources; sacrifice and stamina.
And that is what is at stake in the great political debate we are having today. The changes that are needed are not just a matter of tinkering at the edges, and they will not come if politicians simply tell us what we want to hear. All of us will be called upon to make some sacrifice. None of us will be exempt from responsibility. We will have to fight to fix our schools, but we will also have to challenge ourselves to be better parents. We will have to confront the biases in our criminal justice system, but we will also have to acknowledge the deep-seated violence that still resides in our own communities and marshal the will to break its grip.
That is how we will bring about the change we seek. That is how Dr. King led this country through the wilderness. He did it with words – words that he spoke not just to the children of slaves, but the children of slave owners. Words that inspired not just black but also white; not just the Christian but the Jew; not just the Southerner but also the Northerner.
He led with words, but he also led with deeds. He also led by example. He led by marching and going to jail and suffering threats and being away from his family. He led by taking a stand against a war, knowing full well that it would diminish his popularity. He led by challenging our economic structures, understanding that it would cause discomfort. Dr. King understood that unity cannot be won on the cheap; that we would have to earn it through great effort and determination.
That is the unity – the hard-earned unity – that we need right now. It is that effort, and that determination, that can transform blind optimism into hope – the hope to imagine, and work for, and fight for what seemed impossible before.
The stories that give me such hope don't happen in the spotlight. They don't happen on the presidential stage. They happen in the quiet corners of our lives. They happen in the moments we least expect. Let me give you an example of one of those stories.
There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organizes for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She's been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and the other day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.
And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.
She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.
She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.
So Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."
By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.
But it is where we begin. It is why the walls in that room began to crack and shake.
And if they can shake in that room, they can shake in Atlanta.
And if they can shake in Atlanta, they can shake in Georgia.
And if they can shake in Georgia, they can shake all across America. And if enough of our voices join together; we can bring those walls tumbling down. The walls of Jericho can finally come tumbling down. That is our hope – but only if we pray together, and work together, and march together.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot walk alone.
In the struggle for peace and justice, we cannot walk alone.
In the struggle for opportunity and equality, we cannot walk alone
In the struggle to heal this nation and repair this world, we cannot walk alone.
So I ask you to walk with me, and march with me, and join your voice with mine, and together we will sing the song that tears down the walls that divide us, and lift up an America that is truly indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all. May God bless the memory of the great pastor of this church, and may God bless the United States of America.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Most have likely heard of the comments made by Golf Channel correspondent, Kelly Tilghman. In her remarks she and famed golf pro Nick Faldo were discussing the dominance of Tiger Woods in the world of golf. Faldo jokingly urged younger golfers to gang up on Woods and Tilghman followed up by saying that other players should "lynch him in a back alley."
Since making these comments, Tighlman was suspended for two weeks and has apologized to Tiger and to audiences on the air. The Rev. Al Sharpton called for her immediate firing. Woods, speaking through representative, said that he has been friends with Tighlman for twelve years and that the situation was a "non-issue." Well, Mr. Woods maybe for you it is not an issue. Maybe for Tighlman it was just a "slip of the tongue." However, had the situation been a remark that could have been viewed as anti-semitic, the Anti-Defamation League would have been all over this. Similarly, as Sharpton pointed out, had there been a comment that was sexist the situation would have garnered even more attention and a harsher punishment.
The issue of the "non-issue" is that the very word "lynch" is synonymous with the destruction of the black body by one or more persons because of the color of skin. From 1882-1968, Alabama's Tuskegee University reports that 3,466 African-Americans were lynched in the United States. In the recent acclaimed movie The Great Debaters, Denzel Washington's character speaks to the history of the term describing it as a way to subjugate and oppress transplanted Africans. Through the terrorizing and violent act of lynching, American whites hoped to deal a death blow to the spirit of resistance of African Americans. "Keep the body, take the mind."
Pathetically, the U.S. Senate officially apologized for failing to act on more than 200 anti-lynching bills introduced over the years. However, the psychological trauma to African Americans and the "wage" afforded to whites still exists just as much as if one mentions the death camps of Nazi Germany.
Dr. James Cone, known widely for his work Black Theology of Liberation or Martin and Malcolm: A Dream or a Nightmare speaks truth to power in his latest work that links the cross to the lynching tree. Cone proclaims, "The cross is victory out of defeat...the lynching tree is transcendence of defeat." In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Prof. Cone commented that "people don't like to talk about what is really deep and ugly. The history of lynching is ugly...black bodies hanging on trees...if America could understand itself as not being innocent it could play a more creative role in the world today."
I could not agree with Prof. Cone more. While Mr. Woods may find that there is a "non-issue" for him due to his friendship with Ms. Tighlman, the words she employed in a so called joking manner illustrate just how entrenched racist ideologies and practices are in the American psyche. I am disappointed in, but not surprised by Woods response. He similarly made no big fuss about Fuzzy Zoeller's racist comments about changing the menu at the Masters. When asked what he would do if Tiger won the Masters in 1997 Zoeller said he would, "Pat him on the back. Say congratulations ... and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year ... or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."
How far we really come? Yes, African Americans largely exist in this society unmolested and participate in this so called democracy. However, we still have a long way to go to save our righteous minds from those who would rather see us indeed lynched either literally or figuratively. I only wish Tiger Woods would have seen the issue not in his friend or her apology but in the history behind a term of terror, violence, and death.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
I still cannot believe it. Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses handily. As I packed for my voyage back to school I couldn't believe what I was seeing. This is a historic moment for the nation and also for black folk, whether you support Obama or not. I believe that a great many African Americans are very cynical about Obama and his run for the White House. I will admit that I was one of them. "He's not going to win. Why even put yourself through the pressure and stress" was my thought. America is a nation where race rules. I believe that it still does, but those lines have been blurred, at least a little. Regardless of what happens from here on out for the senator from Illinois he has made a statement about what could possibly be.
I remember as a kid with my Jesse Jackson Button on in 1984, thinking "We gonna have a black president?" Of course Jackson's "Hymietown" remarks would end any hopes of his winning Iowa, New Hampshire, or anything of that magnitude. Obama's accomplishment like one of Dr. King's posthumously published essays is a "Testament of Hope." However my hope is not a blind one that does not recognize the hard and difficult road ahead that Obama faces. Even if he should win the Democratic nomination and let us just say for the sake of argument he is indeed elected, he is but a mere symbol of a movement for equality and opportunity that has slowed to a unnoticeable crawl.
Barack Obama represents only a tiny minuscule piece of the black experience. No, he may not have the so called "street cred" that inspired Donny Hathaway to write about "The Ghetto" or "The Slums", Marvin Gaye to scream out and holler in "Inner City Blues", Curtis Mayfield to pen the lyrics "my mother bore me in the ghetto, there was no mattress for my head. But no she couldn't name me Jesus...I wasn't white enough she said." Obama still may not even have found favor with Notorious B.I.G.'s tragic anthem "Everyday Struggle" or even understand why Tupac "Shed So Many Tears". That said, how many of us symbolize the entirety of the black experience? Just like Denzel Washington's character in Soldier's Story we as African Americans cannot dictate and judge when someone is black enough (of course Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly...and several others are more than a cause for concern).
If Obama does occupy the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, all he will be a representation of a movement of transplanted Africans just like King, Malcolm, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Ella Baker, and martyrdom of Jimmie Lee Jackson or Emmett Till before him. Obama can embody the hopes of dreams that have so long been differed. However, if the majority of black folk are not ready for the revolution of our minds, spirits, and our very existences in the most holistic sense all the pomp and circumstance that would come from Obama's election will be for naught.
Psalms 68:61 (KJV) reads, "Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." That passage gives me a renewed sense of optimism about what can happen in this society. Is American democracy perfect? Not by any means. Its very fortune and rise to power was sealed with the free labor and blood of African slaves. Despite this history if we are not able to walk with Obama just like many were not ready to walk with King when he criticized Vietnam, or when Malcolm formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity....we will not be stretching arms to God, we will be sitting down watching progress pass us by yet again, and our oppressors will slyly say, "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God."
Though YouTube will bring you the election in various forms, the "Revolution Will Not be Televised". Speaking of which, it would be so cold to see Gil Scott Heron performing that spoken word as Barack Obama walks onto the stage to speak at the Democratic National Convention, better yet what about Bob Marley singing "Redemption Song"? Maybe that is asking too much. Sometimes, my lofty idealism gets the best of me. Aside from my nostalgia about some black musicians/artists, it is more important than ever to tear off the shackles of fear, ignorance, and greed and let us all walk into the White House with Obama, whether he is elected or not.